A Feast for the Senses
Your senses will be stunned for the entire time you are in France. The sights are beautiful beyond description. The Eiffel Tower in Paris rises up like a giant erector set, with an elevator to take you to the top for views out over the Seine and the city. At night the tower is set aglow, best to be viewed from a boat as it drifts along the Seine, passing under one lovely bridge after another.
The Orsay, once an elegant turn-of-the-century train station that was built to welcome guests to the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, now houses a startling collection of impressionist art – Monet, Renoir, van Gogh, Dégas, Gauguin, Cézanne, Seurat – within a building that is itself an historic, architectural treasure. Here you will be able to lunch in the grand ballroom of the former grand hotel attached to the train station, and look through the glass of the giant clock that faces the river and makes this building distinctively easy to spot.
There is more and more to come… The glories of Notre Dame. The remarkable stained-glass windows of Saint Chapelle Chapel… The beautiful flowers and statuary of Tuileries Gardens… The onslaught of visual sensations of the Champs-Élysées… The towering Arch de Triomphe, facing the smaller Arch in front of the Louvre at the other end of the five-mile grand boulevard where Napoleon pictured himself leading a march of his victorious armies.
There will be the glorious tastes of the food and wine. You will hear marvelous music of all sorts, from the Vivaldi at Saint Chapelle, to the lively piano bars and boat bars along the left bank of the Seine in Paris and atop Mont St. Michel, to the mighty organ of Notre Dame. You will walk through flower markets, vivid with colors and scents, and shop at weekly markets, alive with people and all manner of tempting offerings.
This assault to the senses will remain with you in memory long after your travels are over.
Intro to the Good Life
The last, but certainly not the least, reason to visit France is that it will introduce you to another, and a better, way of life. You will experience a different manner of interpersonal interaction in France – more engaged, curious, outgoing, and animated. The French truly recognize the importance of enjoying the best of life.
Here dining is a delightful experience, not just a stop to refuel. Food is an art form, combined always with the ideal wines to enhance the meal. Waiters take pride in their work, striving to make dining a memorable occasion by offering up their expertise, and carefully guarding your right to take all the time you need to enjoy your meal without feeling rushed.
People in France are carefully polite with each other, and will be with you. You always will be addressed as ma’am or sir, and asked with a please, followed by a thank you. Cordiality is not only suggested in France, it is expected and omnipresent. You will quickly grow to anticipate and appreciate this.
From the first moment you walk down a street passing all the umbrella-shielded outdoor tables of the cafés, you will notice that this is a culture where people gather together to enjoy each other’s company. Old, young, families, singles, rich, modest, fashionable, artistic, intellectual – everyone is out in the squares and along the avenues, drinking in cafés and eating in restaurants. It becomes easy to join in and be stimulated by the lively, friendly atmosphere. Musicians wander the streets, from old men playing accordions outside the restaurants, to full jazz bands playing in city squares. And because the house wine is so inexpensive, stopping off for a glass or a carafe is a customary, not an exceptional, occurrence.
At the tables that surround you at these cafés, you will notice couples engaged in animated conversation, looking intently into each other’s eyes. France is a culture of philosophy and art, science and technology, style and literature, and of love. As you take all this in, you may begin to find it has an impact on you and how you yourself relate to others. You’ll notice yourself listening more actively, expressing yourself more earnestly and clearly, paying closer attention, acting more considerately, showing more curiosity and interest.
The luxury of time for all this gathering together is in part thanks to the French commitment to keeping an optimal balance between work and life. Shops close for lunch so workers can focus their attention on enjoying a good meal and the company of friends and colleagues. Employees who work 39 or more hours a week must receive more than the legally-required five weeks of vacation per year.
While you are traveling in France, you will come to enjoy and to expect this higher level of connection, this enhanced appreciation of food and wine, this better balance between work and life. You will never forget what you have learned about a different, and better, way of living life.